The British government is reviewing ways to stimulate commercial space activity by reducing insurance obligations on companies that launch satellites, and by removing regulatory barriers to future space tourism for British-based operators, according to the head of the British National Space Centre (BNSC).

In a Feb. 15 interview, BNSC Director-General David Williams said Britain’s new space strategy, which was announced Feb. 14, includes

a suite of proposed regulatory amendments to make it easier for space companies to operate in Britain.

The 42-page “UK Civil Space Strategy: 2008-2012 and Beyond,” was announced by British Science and Innovation Minister Ian Pearson. The document evokes the possibility of a renewed British interest in astronaut-related programs, which would be a reversal of Britain’s position of the past 20 years.

But it makes no budgetary commitments and sets no deadlines for a decision on whether a manned-space effort should be part of Britain’s announced backing of a multinational space exploration program including missions to the

Moon and to Mars.

The document backs the Global Exploration Strategy assembled by 14 global space powers, but does not commit Britain to the MoonLITE lunar penetrator mission, being considered with NASA. Williams said the lunar mission has solid backing among British scientists but that a decision on whether to proceed with it is a year or two away, and would only be made if the mission was built in partnership with another nation.

In an introduction to the document, Pearson said the new strategy is designed to strengthen Britain’s space sector, which he said contributes about 7 billion British pounds ($13.8

billion) annually to Britain’s economy.

The document says regulatory changes to facilitate commercial space business in Britain may be needed, but it does not go into details.

Williams said that currently, a British company launching a satellite is responsible for purchasing insurance for third-party liability, meaning damage that occurs if the satellite falls from space. In some nations, governments assume this responsibility. While these insurance policies are not expensive, Williams said that for a small-satellite project they are nonetheless onerous. He said no decision had been made, but that British authorities will assess whether the government should take over this responsibility.

“We obviously will assume all our obligations under the Outer Space Act,” Williams said, referring to a United Nations resolution that has long set guidelines on who is responsible for damages caused by rockets and satellites. “What we want to ensure is that there is a level playing field. We don’t want our companies disadvantaged relative to companies in other nations.”

Williams said space tourism – whose best-known champion, Virgin Chairman Richard Branson

, is British – is another area

in which current British regulations may need to be modified to encourage Branson

and others to operate in Britain.

Virgin Galactic currently plans flights from the United States and, at a later stage, from Sweden. Both nations have crafted regulatory regimes that facilitate the business despite its pioneering, and potentially dangerous, nature.

“If a space tourism operator comes to us and says, ‘I want to operate here,’ we need to be able to develop a policy that enables that,” Williams said.

The new British policy also could

lead to Britain reclassifying satellites as mobile assets under the meaning given by the Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment, signed in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2001.

Under this international convention, mobile equipment is granted certain advantages in how it is accounted for in companies’ financial statements. But satellites are not included in Britain as mobile equipment. Bringing satellite hardware into the definition could give British satellite builders tax advantages they do not have now, Williams said.